Orange-Osceola chief assistant state attorney running for Aramis Ayala's job

Deborah Barra holds highest position available without being elected

By Louis Bolden - Investigative Reporter

The chief assistant state attorney for the 9th Judicial Circuit, which encompasses Orange and Osceola counties, filed paperwork Monday to run for state attorney, according to her campaign.

Deborah Barra has been a prosecutor in the office for 16 years, working under multiple administrations.  

Barra was first hired by Lawson Lamar and later moved into a management position. She remained in management under Jeff Ashton's tenure. When Ayala was elected, she promoted Barra to chief assistant state attorney.

Last week, News 6 was the first to report that Ayala would not seek re-election. Ayala made the announcement in a video that was posted to the office's Facebook page. Barra said she has Ayala's blessing to run and will have her endorsement. 

"I think no matter who you are, no matter what party you're in, I think it’s going to be very clear to the voters that I am the right choice," Barra told News 6 in an exclusive interview.

Barra said had she run earlier than now she would not have been ready.  "And I think that's a very important aspect to be self aware," she said.

Most people might know her from doing the shoot review from the Pulse nightclub shootings, and giving the community the most comprehensive account of what happened that night.

Every time an officer fires his weapon in Orange or Osceola County, Barra decides if the shooting was justified.
With Pulse, all 14 officers who fired were cleared.  When asked if she felt any pressure doing the review she said no.  "My job was to find the facts and apply it to the law. Just like in any other case," she said.

Barra points out that no one is above the law and she has prosecuted three police officers during her career.

"I'm most proud of the fact that, if somebody commits a crime, and it does not matter who you are," she said. "I will hold you responsible."

In her 16 years, she's prosecuted some of Orange and Osceola counties most high profile cases, including convicting Darryl Patterson who was known as the "Windermere rapist." 

She has convicted 43 rapists, sex offenders and child molesters.

"It's a wonderful feeling when you know justice has been served," she said.

Barra supports death penalty

Barra said she has Ayala's support, but has different views. Ayala made national headlines when she announced shortly after being sworn in, that her office would not seek the death penalty.
It turned into a month's long legal battle with Gov. Rick Scott.  Florida's Supreme Court sided with Scott.  Ayala brought up the decision last week when she announced she would not run.

"It became abundantly clear to me that death penalty law in the state of Florida is in direct conflict with my view and my vision for the administration of justice," Ayala said.

Ayala does not support the death penalty, but Barra does.  While Ayala was in a court battle with Scott over the death penalty, Barra was prosecuting Juan Rosario, who beat an 83-year-old woman to death and set her house on fire to cover it up.

Barra convicted him and is seeking the death penalty. She also sits on the office's death penalty review panel, which was established by Ayala.

Running against a friend

Ryan Williams and Kevin Morenski have also filed to run for state attorney in the 9th Circuit. Williams worked in the office as a prosecutor, but quit when Ayala initially announced she would not seek the death penalty.  He has filed to run for state attorney and Barra said she considers him a friend.

"I think he's a great prosecutor, I really do," she said. "But when it comes to the position of state attorney, I am better qualified and I am ready."

Barra, who is in charge of the day-to-day operations at the office, said if elected she will make community partnerships a priority.

She also said she wants to explain the offices charging decisions to the public.

"If there is a shooting and we don't go forward, there is a reason," she said.  "The 'why' is very important.  And that's what I would change. I want people to know the why."

Outside of work, Barra said she has dinner with her parents and siblings once a week, and she has been married just over a year. She is openly gay.

When asked if she thinks Orange and Osceola counties are ready for an openly gay state attorney Barra said she does.

"I think that those days are gone," she said. "I don't want people to remember me as the gay state attorney. I want people to remember me as the best state attorney who just happened to be gay."

To learn more about Barra visit her website here.

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